Air pollution solutions can also save the climateSwitching to electric cookstoves and vehicles produces benefits for the society, environment and economy.
Both air pollution and climate change are consequences of intensive consumption practices that emit chemicals and particulate matter into the atmosphere. These emissions then either decrease ambient air quality or trap heat, and sometimes do both. The sources and impacts of climate change and air pollution are inextricably linked, and so are solutions to address them.
According to Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI), Nepal had the most polluted air among 180 countries in 2018. They attributed this to consistent use of solid biofuels in homes as well as the increasing concentration of particulate matter in the atmosphere.
According to the 2019 State of Global Air report, sixty-five percent of Nepali households depend on solid biomass such as animal waste, plant residues and firewood to meet cooking and heating needs. Rural households often burn this biomass in open fires or traditional crude stoves that leads to incomplete combustion. This produces particulate matter and carbon monoxide which are trapped in poorly ventilated kitchens, where women and children spend the most time.
The EPI ranks Nepal’s household air quality at 145th out of 178. According to the Ministry of Health, acute respiratory infection and acute lower respiratory infection are the leading cause of childhood morbidity and mortality in Nepal and the leading cause of premature deaths in adults. The State of Global Air report calculates that, in 2017, 11200 deaths were caused by indoor air pollution in Nepal. In addition to such health impacts, incomplete combustion also produces black carbon, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and non-methane volatile organic contaminants that contribute to climate change. Replacing such cooking technology with biogas or electric cookstoves reduces the impact on health and climate, and also helps empower and uplift rural women and poor.
Using modern anaerobic digestors, biogas converts organic waste into energy. This energy is then used for household cooking and heating and, when paired with the right technology, can also be used to generate electricity. As a byproduct it also produces fertilisers. Through this technology, households can utilise animal and plant waste as fuel in a safe manner. It also reduces the amount of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere.
Where electric grids are available or solar panels possible, electric induction stoves can be used for cooking. Studies show that such stoves cook food much faster and cheaper than LPG stoves. Electric cookstoves create no indoor pollution and when paired with renewable infrastructures, like solar panels, can eliminate greenhouse gases (GHG) production from the cooking sector.
Particulate matter is considered to be the most lethal form of air pollutant. Particulate matter that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter, popularly known as PM2.5, can enter our bloodstream through our lungs, and cause heart and lung complications. Out of 180 countries, according to the EPI, Nepal has amongst the highest concentration of PM2.5 in the atmosphere. In 2017 almost 13,000 deaths in Nepal could be attributed to PM2.5 pollution.
Petroleum-burning vehicles are among the chief source of such particulate matter, especially in Kathmandu. The transport sector is also responsible for increasing greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Since 1990, the number of vehicles on Nepal’s roads have steadily increased at a rate of 14 percent annually. Most of this increase is caused by motorised two-wheelers, which currently make up 78 percent of all vehicles on the road.
Switching to electric vehicles would reduce both air pollution as well as warming emissions in Nepal. They would also reduce trade dependence on India and decrease our trade deficit as well. Because of tariff and tax incentives, as well as increasing awareness regarding pollution, electric vehicles adoption in Nepal is steadily increasing. It is approximated that today, around 10 percent of vehicles sold in the country today are EVs. However, one of the biggest barriers to increased adoption is recognised as the lack of charging stations across the country.
Climate change has been a difficult issue to tackle because its impacts are scattered in time and space and are usually not immediately obvious. However, this is not the case with air pollution. The human health impacts of both urban and rural air pollution are much more tangible and well recognised in Nepal. Because burning biomass and fossil fuels can be so destructive for both human health and climate, switching to electric vehicles and electric technologies is urgent. This switch would not only reduce health and climate impacts but would also reduce rates of deforestation and increase gender and socio-economic equity—positively impacting the society, environment and the economy.
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